The Dark Side of Free Education

There’s been a lot of buzz in the last week about New York State’s new promise to offer free tuition at its state (State University of New York-SUNY) and New York City (City University of New York-CUNY) systems, most of it excited and positive. Bernie Sanders got on board. Everyone in my Facebook feed, including most of the educators I know, is excited. I’ve seen the same reaction to Stanford’s decision, and the plans elsewhere for free community college as well.

Frankly, I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong: I think tuition for all students should be free (though that’s not exactly how this plan works). Education is not a privilege, it’s a right, and an investment in the future good of any civilization or society. It’s criminal that we load students down with debt just to get something that’s required for them to even begin to “get ahead” in life (and many of them still can’t do that because of the structure of our economy). I applaud any school that can make this happen—except if they do it on the backs of adjuncts. Here’s what I mean, from Inside Higher Ed‘s summary of the new annual salary survey:

Released today, AAUP’s annual survey finds that … the average total pay for part-time faculty members at a single institution was $20,508. Average pay for part-time faculty members teaching on a per-section basis only (excluding professors teaching part-time during phased retirement, for example) was $7,066, with serious limitations to the data…. Dunietz, of AAUP, emphasized that the statistic is “not meant to indicate an average pay per course,” but rather the average salaries of those part-time faculty that are paid on a per-course basis. “Some of these faculty may teach two or three courses, and the data that we have doesn’t differentiate between cost per course,” he added.

The “part-time” designation is also highly misleading. Many of those part-time professors are part-time at several institutions, due to course caps that keep them from teaching a full load at any one school, so no one gets stuck with their insurance and benefits costs. They are, in fact, often teaching anywhere from 5 to 12 classes, in person and online. Meanwhile, according to the same AAUP survey, college presidents are now making 3.5 to 4 times as much as full professors at research institutions.

Regarding CUNY and SUNY “salaries,” Lynne Turner, of the CUNY Adjunct Project, notes,

The starting compensation for CUNY adjuncts is a meager $3200 per 3-credit course, whereas at both Rutgers in N[ew] J[ersey] and the University of Connecticut systems equivalent adjunct pay per course hovers at around $5000 to start—and they are organizing for more. The CUNY Adjunct Project where I am a coordinator and many others are pressing for a real campaign for a livable compensation of $7000 per course—but it won’t happen unless we stop being complicit with the silence rendering invisible CUNY’s poverty level adjunct compensation.

At CUNY and SUNY, adjuncts teach approximately 60% of the courses. This means that a majority proportion of faculty is making about $20K/year, cobbling together a career from the scraps dropped from the high table of the CUNY chancellor and his $18K/month apartment or the SUNY chancellor’s $200K pay raise. NFM and others have written over and over again about how “Adjunct working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” Because of lack of institutional and financial support, contingent faculty are less able to take risks in either the classroom or their own research, try innovative new teaching strategies, or mentor students. Despite their lack of support and job protection, adjunct faculty still manage to do extraordinary work, sacrificing unpaid labor for both their discipline and their students and winning both teaching and research awards. As one commenter on the compensation story said,

At my C[ommunity] C[ollege], two adjuncts won “part-time teacher of the year” and had published three books and five journal articles between them. The next semester they both lost their classes due “bumping” by a new TT faculty member. Adjuncts have zero academic freedom, yet these two managed to be of great benefit to the students, students who pointlessly protested the non-rehires to our governing board. There is NO other profession in which there is almost zero correlation between performance and compensation.

So what are CUNY and SUNY students getting for free? Overworked, underpaid, exploited adjuncts with no job security or academic freedom, mostly, especially in those crucial core courses of their first two years. This is not a good deal for anyone.

But I’m most disturbed by the number of educators, both full time and adjunct, who are cheering it on. Why is this okay? Sure, it sounds, on the surface, like a great deal for students, but if you’re an adjunct it’s at your own expense. Why are you not asking when we’re going to start supporting and paying the workers who do the actual educating living wages, as part and parcel of helping our students succeed? When one group is exploited to advantage another, there’s nothing good about that, nothing fair, nothing right, and nothing sustainable. And if you approve of it, you’re part of the problem.

Stop cheering. Get up and demand better for all of us, students and faculty. Chop from the top, as my friend Lydia says, if that’s what it takes to make it happen.

–Lee Kottner

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Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 3

by Chessie Green

Editors Note: This series first appeared on the New Faculty Majority blog in 2013.

Part 1, Part 2


Let’s throw a bone to the university for just a moment and view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift. “It’s a privilege” to teach for the university and “the best adjuncts want to give back.” Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of expertise, and for the students, a priceless amount of caring and attention.  In return, the university gives them a tip and treats them without respect and as completely dispensable. 

To recap the situation: I, a willing adjunct, someone who is teaching as a sideline, found myself agreeing at the last minute to substitute for a full-time faculty member. I was assigned to an unsecured, empty building at night with no technology in the classroom except for a DVD player in poor working condition.  The white board was filthy; the erasers didn’t work.  On the last night of class, someone had turned off the power.  I received emails from various university departments urging me not to slip on the ice, to beware of tornadoes, and to seek counseling if I had concerns about a shooting at another university in the state.

And then, I received a personalized letter from the Provost requesting that I make a charitable gift to the university.  “Now is the best time,” he wrote, “because any gift you make will be matched, dollar for dollar.  By giving now, you can double the benefit to our students!”

He went on, “Your gift—of any amount—truly matters to the university and our students! We rely on supportive individuals to fund improvements every single year that allow us to maintain our position as one of the nation’s preeminent universities.”

I briefly considered a gift of $20, which, if matched, would be worth $40, and they could then have bought a working DVD player for the classroom.

In sending me a fundraising appeal, the university reinforced its view that the adjunct is a donor—financially and in-kind.  Yet the university has shown only indifference to the students and me and our minimal needs.

When donors make a gift of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the university, there is an abundance of recognition and respect.  They honor them with dinners, feature stories in the alumni magazine, and appointments to advisory bodies.  They name entire programs and buildings after them.

In the case of this quite generous donor, myself, during that same semester summarized above, they forgot to pay me the little fee, the tip, the token of gratitude.  When I inquired, I received this response: “I finally have an answer for you re. the pay: you will be paid in lump sum, but not until [one month after the end of the semester].  Once again, I must apologize that not everything was done as it should have been: we have one faculty member who is paid through a different account, and in getting her sorted out, there was a misunderstanding on who would initiate your pay.”

And so, Dear Reader, ends the three-part series “Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor.”  It has been aimed at those who think of themselves as “willing adjuncts” who don’t teach “for the money.”  We have common ground with the involuntary adjuncts and should join NFM in solidarity.   


Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 2

by Chessie Green

Editors Note: This series first appeared on the New Faculty Majority blog in 2013. Part 1


Let’s throw a bone to the university for just a moment and view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift. “It’s a privilege” to teach for the university and “the best adjuncts want to give back.” Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of expertise, and for the students, a priceless amount of caring and attention.  In return, the university gives them a tip and treats them without respect and as completely dispensable. 

Continuing on my riff of the adjunct as donor, I’d like to tell you what happened when I “donated” my time and years of expertise as a last minute substitute for a full-time, tenure-track faculty member.  I had two weeks to prepare, and at the appointed time, on a dark January evening, I arrived at the designated building.

The building, on a satellite campus, appeared to be closed. Most of the lights had been turned off.  There was a weak light over what turned out to be the entrance. The building was completely unsecured.

The next day, I contacted the faculty liaison for my department (whose offices are on the main campus). I described the fact that the building was dark and unsecured and asked what I should do in case of emergency.  I received no response.

Then, one day we all received a message from the Office of Risk Management urging us not to slip on the ice.  I thought, “Aha!  Risk management!  They’ll care, surely!”  I asked them about the dark, unsecured building and what we should do in an emergency.  I received a response saying my email was being forwarded to the supervisor of the satellite campus.

I eventually received a call from this nice gentleman.  He didn’t know there was a class in the building after 7 at night.   He said there were surveillance cameras but they were not monitored (unless something happens, then they serve as a record).  In an emergency, he said, go down to the lobby where there is a phone that you can use to dial 911.  Or, use your cell phone.

By the way, the restrooms on the first floor were open, too.

Then, we received a message about our department’s new satellite offices now being in the same building.  It was accompanied by elaborate instructions on unlocking the new adjunct’s room.

A short while after that, we received a message to beware of tornadoes.

Okay, so I won’t slip on the ice, and I will beware of tornadoes!  But, honest to God, when I went to the satellite campus in full daylight to meet with a student in our department’s new offices, I found that (1) the department’s offices were securely locked, requiring a code to get in, and (2) within that suite of offices, the “adjunct office” was locked, and (3) once in, I saw that it was full of empty boxes and a really old computer.

There are a few more dimensions to security I would like to mention before drawing some conclusions.

My assigned classroom was not set up technologically.  When I called the number posted on the wall for technical help, I learned that I had to fill in a form, come get the equipment myself (in a different building) and return the equipment myself before they went home for the evening. So I would be carrying this equipment on a dark urban street, etc. but it would be my responsibility.

On the last night of class, we found our classroom locked. A sign on the door said if we needed to use the classroom, the key was in the library.  If we needed to use the classroom?  I got the key from the library, and the librarian said, by the way, there is no electricity in the classroom.  There were lights, but they shut off the power to the outlets.  Since I was planning on showing a DVD related to our subject, she said she would ask the security personnel to get some extension cords so we could connect to an outlet in the library.  IT TOOK 25 MINUTES FOR SECURITY PERSONNEL TO RESPOND. 

Oh, by the way, the white boards were filthy, and the eraser didn’t clean them.

Postscript: the DVD I had brought worked perfectly when I tested it at home, and worked perfectly when I re-tested it afterwards at home.  When I played it for the class, it skipped and misbehaved in various ways.  So, even the DVD player at the university was not appropriately maintained.

And then, we received an email inviting us to seek counseling if we needed it.  There had been a shooting at another university in the state, and two people were killed.  “Members of our university community are reminded that our Office of Counseling and Psychological Services is available to anyone wishing or needing to share any feelings, thoughts or concerns they might have about this incident. As always, if you witness suspicious activity, call 911 to alert Campus Police.”

I thought of responding by saying that something quite similar, in fact worse, could have happened in our dark, unsecured classroom building, and the university would only have been able to offer us “counseling.”

The university has got us covered.  They really know how to protect empty boxes and equipment old and new.  They know how to lock out the students from a department’s offices.  They are timely in their warnings not to slip on the ice.  They alert us to tornadoes.  If there is an intruder on the upper floor, all I have to do is take the elevator down to the first floor and use the lobby phone to dial 911.  Maybe someone from security will show up in 25 minutes.  If something happens to us, they may be able to catch the perp by reviewing old reels from the surveillance camera.

The university knows how to protect the interests of everybody except the students and faculty.


 

Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Part 3

Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 1

by Chessie Green

Editors Note: This series first appeared on the New Faculty Majority blog in 2013. 


In just the past few weeks, major gifts by individuals to prominent universities have made headlines.  We have Duke, Columbia, University of California, NYU, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and more.  That led me to think about donors to universities, and in thinking about donors, I remembered the administrator who said that adjuncts aren’t teaching for the money but because “the best adjuncts want to give back.”

Let’s say, for the moment, that the point is legitimate, and we view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift.  Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of expertise, time, commitment to educational excellence—and for the students, a priceless amount of caring and attention.

In return, the university gives them a tip and treats them without respect and as completely dispensable.

Here are some examples from my experience.

If an adjunct spoke out about a late payment, or some help that had been promised but not delivered, the university closed ranks.  The attitude seemed to be to let adjuncts sink or swim because “it’s a privilege” to teach for the university and because “the best adjuncts want to give back.”

Universities investing in online delivery offer training opportunities for the faculty hired to teach those courses.  It doesn’t matter which university—the situation is the same:  the trainers, and the deans who supervise them, can be oblivious to the fact that adjuncts are working professionals with multiple, significant responsibilities. Whether a trainer actually showed up either on time or at all was hit or miss.  Had the equipment or programs been tested in advance?  Maybe not—so, wait 20 minutes for everything to be figured out.  No trainings on weekends, needless to say.

If the training happened to be offered on-site, one never knew if the desk guard had been informed or if anyone had unlocked the door to the assigned room.  If you see a gaggle of adjuncts milling about helplessly, it’s probably because they arrived on time for training.

If an adjunct who was already experienced stepped in voluntarily to help other colleagues, the university’s training staff either felt undermined or concerned that some standard of excellence wouldn’t be met.  The adjunct’s expertise was neither recognized nor respected.

Adjuncts have to plan their time carefully if they are going to prepare to teach a course, even one they have taught before.  They have to build that time into their demanding lives.  The university behaves as if course scheduling, room assignments, payments, training or technological back-up should occur at the staff’s convenience, not the adjunct’s.  The only driver is what the staff feels like doing at any given time.

If the adjunct were considered a peer, part of the equation would be respect or deference given to the individual’s subject expertise, reputation, and multiple responsibilities.

When donors make a gift of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the university, there is an abundance of recognition and respect.  They honor them with dinners, feature stories in the alumni magazine, and appointments to advisory bodies.  They name entire programs and buildings after them.

If the university expects adjuncts to be donors, then it should treat them as such.  The Association of Fundraising Professionals has a “Donor’s Bill of Rights.” Try tenet number five: the donor has the right “to receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition.”


 

Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Part 2, Part 3

 

Hall of Shame: College of New Rochelle

This post first appeared on Lee Kottner’s personal blog, Dowsing. Reprinted here by permission. Since this was first written, some of the conditions at the school have changed, some for the better, some for the worse, mostly in regard to computer technology.


JCOC South BronxA few years ago, I was still teaching at the College of New Rochelle when they got a new president. I was still feeling my way into adjunct activisim at the time, and still fearful for my job there, such as it was, but also nearing the end of my rope. The crappy pay, the gigantic amount of ridiculous, ass-covering paperwork (filled out by hand. By hand!), the filthy facilities, the lack of support, the standardized syllabi and assigned textbooks—I wonder why I stayed so long. Anyway, when the new president arrived, I thought I’d write her a letter so she would not have the excuse of not knowing what was going on at her satellite campuses, because I knew the chances of her coming down from her beautiful campus in New Rochelle to the dumpy building that served us in the South Bronx were nil. I never sent this because I was too fearful. But I’m posting it here now because I burnt that bridge—and the smoke smelled great.

*    *    *

Judith Huntington, PresidentCNR Logo
The College of New Rochelle
29 Castle Place
New Rochelle, New York 10805

Dear President Huntington,

First, congratulations on your new position at the College of New Rochelle. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes you make as a “new broom.” In fact, I’m writing to you to suggest a few of those changes myself. First a little background.

I have been an adjunct professor at CNR’s John Cardinal O’Connor (JCOC) campus [in the South Bronx] since 2008. I started off as a tutor in the writing center, and then went on to teach Journal Writing, Modes of Analysis, LTCA, Writing Research Papers, Logic and Argumentation, and the TEE writing lab. During my time in the writing lab, I fell in love with the students at the JCOC campus; they are so hungry for knowledge and they work so hard to overcome obstacles that would completely flummox many people. My admiration for these students is the main factor that’s kept me coming back to CNR for the last three years.

Unfortunately, this semester, I will not be back, and this was a very hard decision to make. Although I was offered a section each of LTCA and Modes, I’ve taken a section of College Prep English with the CUNY-affiliated Brooklyn Educational Opportunities Center (BEOC) instead. Sadly, my major motivation for this choice has been money. I love teaching Modes and LTCA and I’m good at it (last semester, all of my LTCA students passed their exit exams). Many of the students I first meet in the TEE lab sign up with me for other classes, too. But BEOC pays me almost $70/hour for 8 contact hours/week which include mandatory office hours. I net more teaching a single no-credit course at BEOC than I do teaching two 4-credit courses at CNR. I’m also teaching a section each of Comp I and Comp II (3-credit courses) at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City, even though the commute is an hour and half versus the half hour to JCOC, and not simply because they offer $1,200/credit.

Much as I love the students at JCOC, I’ve been frustrated by my inability to offer them the level of instruction they deserve. I’m not even referring to the fact that CNR is the only institution I’ve ever taught at where I have zero control over my own syllabus and where my texts are chosen for me. Even as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, I developed my own syllabus, ordered my own texts, and structured my class as I saw fit (with supervision, of course, at that stage). My real complaint is the fact that I have no place to meet students, and they have no way to contact me or turn in papers to me outside of class other than email, which CNR discourages.

The lack of support for adjunct instructors at CNR is stunning, frankly. Not only do we have no offices or even cubicles, nowhere to leave our texts or meet students or simply sit to prepare materials, but there is no sense of community and no way of developing one. Each of us teach in a vacuum. When I joined NJCU this summer, I was immediately assigned an office with a computer and a telephone, and my own mailbox where students could leave work for me (also true at BEOC, though there I have a cubicle). I was also encouraged to attend what turned out to be a great orientation session which included meeting textbook reps and a pedagogy workshop that filled three hours of the afternoon with great information and suggestions. CNR holds a faculty meeting which it requires adjuncts to attend every year, which I, honestly, have skipped each time, though I’ve made it a point to attend the adjunct instructors’ meeting at the start of the semester. I’ve skipped the faculty meeting for several reasons: the fact that it’s scheduled on a Saturday morning and eats up most of the day; the fact that I’m usually working either freelance or another teaching job when it’s scheduled; and the fact that I don’t feel I’m paid enough to give up five hours (seven with travel time) of my weekend. I’m already burdened with more physical paperwork (in triplicate, filled out by hand) at CNR than I’ve ever seen at any college.

The lack of support extends to facilities and equipment as well. JCOC is the only school I’ve ever taught at where I have no access to copying facilities and have to bring my own paper if I want to print something on the computers. Asking instructors to send big copying jobs to a central facility for reproduction a week in advance is perfectly reasonable, but I can’t even make 25 single sheet copies at the last minute for my class. Instead, I’ve used my own laser printer and paper to make copies for class because I’m never sure if the printers at school will be working. Very often, they’re not, which is frustrating for both me and JCOC’s students. Needless to say, no one reimburses me for my paper or toner costs, which can amount to more than $100 a semester. “Plan better,” you say? Easier said than done, when one is teaching four or sometimes five classes at three institutions spread across the 6,720 square miles of the New York Metropolitan Area. Not to mention that, at least the first time around, I often know what classes I’m teaching less than two weeks before they start, and sometimes with as little as two or three days notice. Lack of access to copiers also makes spontaneous changes to a class when new material presents itself difficult if not impossible.

The computer facilities, or lack thereof, pose other problems for both me and my students. There is only one smart classroom in JCOC and it is mostly used for placement exams. For anything but night classes, this poses a scheduling problem if I want to use that classroom to, for example, show my students how to access the library databases and do research. In addition, if I want to show something available on the internet, there’s no way to show it in any classroom but this one. Finally, because there are no facilities like Blackboard for doing so, I always run a private webpage connected to my personal website for each of my classes where students can check the schedule and from which they can download any handouts they may have missed, watch a video on proofreading by Taylor Mali, and find links to good research sources on the web. I’m not sure if other adjuncts do this, and it’s fortunate that I know enough HTML to do so. But none of us should have to use our own resources for this.

The limited computer facilities pose special problems for JCOC’s students in particular. As I’m sure you’re aware, most of these students have very little money; many are on public assistance of some sort. For many of them, the only computer access they have is at school. If they have a computer at home, they may not have internet access. If they have a computer and internet access, they may not have a printer, or be able to afford paper or ink/toner. Often, the only paper available at school is colored paper, and yet, we require our students to write their papers on computers and and print them on white paper. Isn’t paper for the printers included in their student fees?

In addition, many of my students come into my classes without a good knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word or access the Web. They don’t really understand the difference between email and a web page. They don’t know how to attach a file to an email. At least one course (TEE) has a required computer component. I’ve had more than one student fail that part of the course because they were working full time and had no computer access anywhere but school, and the hours are limited. I’m sure that requirement works just fine at the main campus, but not at JCOC.

The students at JCOC lead very complicated lives. Most have children and many are recovering addicts who deal with domestic abuse, homelessness, violence in the neighborhood, and the bureaucracy of public assistance, which can be Kafkaesque at times. One of the largest causes of absenteeism at JCOC is lack of childcare. Since JCOC serves a population that is mostly older adults, most of them with children, it would help both retention and attendance to have or support some kind of childcare on-site or near the campus. Access to reliable childcare would go a long way toward improving students’ ability to attend and finish school. Occasionally letting mothers bring their children to class wouldn’t hurt either. I’d rather see them in class with a child than missing in action. There must be grants for this.

Finally, a small thing: scheduling classes that run from 5:30 pm to 10 pm or 10 am to 2 pm with meager 20 minute breaks and not allowing students to eat in class is cruel and unusual punishment. Bad enough there is no cafeteria serving decent food and only fast food in the neighborhood. If they’re hungry, they’re not thinking or learning well. If I’m hungry, I’m not teaching well either. Needless to say, this rule is largely ignored, but it seems senseless and mean to even post it.

So far, this letter has largely consisted of complaints. I’d like to propose some improvements, too. Some refer to general educational policies, some specifically to JCOC itself.

Offer your adjuncts a living wage and treat us with dignity.

  1. Give adjuncts more control over course structure and text choice. We’re trained educators, not amateurs. Supervision is better than directives.
  2. Offer orientations and workshops to create community and support good teaching—and compensate adjuncts for their time when they do attend. There are grants for this as well.
  3. Provide some kind of space to call our own in which we can meet with students, for the sake of FERPA rules if nothing else.
  4. Cut the paperwork. The grading system is cumbersome and inconvenient for just about everyone. Adopt an on-line grade submission program. I can recommend a good school management program that includes this and many more convenient features. Be mindful that composition teachers may have 35 ten-page papers to grade for each class, in the meager 48 hours you allow for grade submission.
  5. Give us access to copying facilities for small jobs, and decent copying machines.

I realize that in New York, adjuncts are a dime a dozen, but when you find good ones, whether they’re terminal MAs like me, or Ph.D. candidates, it pays you (and your students) to keep them, and the best way to do that is to pay us a living wage. If we have to teach 5 low-paying, grading-intensive writing classes to make ends meet, we’re not serving anyone’s students, including yours. Both CUNY and NJCU are better (if  not perfect) models for this, probably because they both have unions. Both offer good wages and benefits and attract good teachers who stay because of that. And to be blunt, it’s the kind of working conditions we find at CNR that attract adjuncts to union organizing. If you want to keep unions at bay, make them unnecessary.

Improve computer facilities and training for students.

  1. Wifi in the classrooms is less important (and sometimes just another distraction) than having more smart classrooms and functioning, fast, computer access and working printers with paper.
  2. Make sure the first thing incoming students learn is how to use those computers, before requiring that they do so. Speaking as a former power-user word processor, Microsoft Word is now a far more complex program than it used to be, and not as easy to use as just learning to type used to be. I spend too much class time teaching students how to use Word at a basic level.
  3. Adopt a college-wide system such as Blackboard to make communication outside of class easier and classes more interactive for students. This is especially important in a commuter school like JCOC

Improve building facilities and the school experience for students and faculty.

  1. Expand the library. Could it have a whole floor to itself? I don’t know what’s on the second floor. Nobody goes there, but it might make a great library space.
  2. Please, please, upgrade the restrooms, which are often out of soap or towels, and grubby even when they’re “clean.”
  3. Even a small cafeteria is probably out of the question because of space limitations, so allowing students to bring their own food to class and consume it there would help keep them alert and allow them to eat well.
  4. If students can’t have a real bookstore onsite, maybe the teaching supply store in the neighborhood, Tannen’s, could function in that capacity. One of my greatest pleasures as an undergrad was looking at the books for other classes. It’s a great way to spark interest in reading and learning.
  5. Offer some kind of childcare either on-site or nearby.
  6. Make the student lounge more inviting.

Implementing any one of these suggestions would go a long way toward making CNR in general and JCOC in particular a better school for both students and faculty.

I don’t know if I’ll be back at JCOC again (probably not after you read this letter), but I want to reiterate how much I love teaching there, despite the conditions and pay, simply because of the students. I’ve never taught students who rewarded my efforts with so much hard work, so much eagerness, so much enthusiasm and intellectual desire. I feel like I have been shortchanging them because of the conditions at JCOC, and that’s not right. I put up with the conditions and poor pay for those students, but I can’t continue to make that sacrifice indefinitely. No true professional can. No true professional should have to.

Thank you for your attention and patience in reading this letter. Again, I wish you all the best in your new position.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Kottner

*    *    *

One condition I didn’t mention that exists specifically at this college and at too many others is student exploitation. This particular campus operates like far too many for-profit schools do, by selling their services to underprepared students and then giving them little or no support. Many of my students there were getting GEDs at the same time they were pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. The curriculum committee, in their wisdom, decided to institute high stakes tests at the end of not just one but three levels of writing classes, the first of which employed Pearson’s expensive (and problematic for this group) computer components. This is two too many tests, in my view but it is doubly criminal because the school has no writing center and offers virtually no outside support for a group that particularly needs it. The only so-called tutoring available is largely unsupervised peer tutors who are very unreliable and poorly paid—one per shift. One. I’ve taught all three of these classes and seen students pass the class but fail the test and thus have to retake the whole class again, sometimes two or three times, digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, and having to repurchase Pearson’s access codes each time. These conditions exist at too many colleges, where students are seen as cash cows that feed the salaries of administrators.

I post this now because these are precisely the conditions addresed by the petition to the Department of Labor that I helped write. That petition has now been submitted to the DOL, thanks to Maria Maisto, and David Weil, head of the Wage and Hour Division, is well aware of our working conditions. It remains to be seen if schools like CNR will continue to be allowed to exploit both instructors and students.

–Lee Kottner